January/February 2007 By Lee Mergner
It's How You Finish That Counts
For several years now, this issue has been the one in which we look back at the year in the world of jazz. We do so both seriously and humorously, with respect and irreverence. We beg forgiveness for any slights, intended or unintended, in our lively Year in Review section, but if we jazz people can’t laugh at ourselves, then we’ve got bigger issues.
In 2005, new yet old recordings from dead legends such as Coltrane, Monk, Davis, Parker and Mingus dominated not just the Reissues category, as we would expect, but also the New Releases category, thanks to uncovering of lost tapes and masters. Some of that same musical archaeology carried into 2006 specifically with Mingus’ live recordings, as well as some great box sets collecting Davis, Coltrane and Sonny Stitt. However, the polls this year reflected a different theme—that of redemption by living legends. Three elder statesmen of jazz—Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and Andrew Hill—demonstrated that even as septuagenarians they can make music that challenges and engages listeners on every level. The public and critical acclaim for these artists was not a matter of nostalgia. Coleman, Rollins and Hill are still very much in the vanguard of this music, even after careers spanning over half a century each. Each highly influential. Each entirely individualistic. Now as then.
Both Coleman and Rollins came out with long-awaited studio albums on their own newly established record labels, which ought to be a bellwether of sorts for the changing paradigms within the music industry. You’d be hard-pressed to argue that their music suffered from the lack of corporate or institutional support. Our critics were nearly unanimous in their praise for Hill’s latest CD Time Lines on Blue Note. Even the reissue of Pax on Blue Note caught the attention of our critics. As reviewed by Bill Milkowski, Hill recently revisited the music from an older recording (Passing Ships) in a stirring concert in New York City. Finally, Hill was saluted in this issue by an artist more often seen in JT’s sister rock publication Harp, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, who talked about how Hill’s music reached (and still reaches) new generations of players and listeners. Cline’s latest solo project, New Monastery, was his personal take on Hill’s music and was also chosen as one of the Top 50 CDs by our contributors. Unlike Coleman and Rollins, Hill has not always been a household name in the jazz world, so it’s heartwarming if a little bittersweet to see him get all of this acclaim so late in the game.
All three musicians have kept vital as much by absorbing the influences of younger musicians as by listening to their inner muse. There are few generation gaps in this music, as we see in the cover story on the vibrant pairing of guitarist John Scofield with the jam-jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood. Coming from seemingly different places musically, the four musicians reunited for the first time since their successful collaboration A Go Go in 1998. They talked with Andy Tennille about how and why they clicked so well together (again). It seems that sometimes you have to find middle ground in order to get to the higher ground. Sounds like a New Year’s resolution.
Originally published in January/February 2007